Themes of Lucas
Ask any English teacher on any continent about themes and they will point out that typically authors tend to prefer recurring topics. Charles Dickens usually wrote about the contrast of upper and lower class England. Herman Melville often brought up the issue of racism in his novels like Moby Dick. In movies, it is the same. Steven Spielberg, for example, often examines bad fathers in movies like E.T. and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. George Lucas is no difference. His themes, though, delve into very deep issues that are on the top of everyone’s minds.
Man and Technology
Lucas often explores the issue of technology and mankind’s incorporation of it into our society. One of the earliest examples of this can be seen in his first feature-length film, THX-1138. In the film, the world has allowed its machinery to take over its life to the point where robot police control the lives of the public. Everything has a technological aspect to it, including their “god,” a large poster of a face with recorded messages to his followers.
In his college film 1:42:08: A Man and His Car, Lucas first began to probe mankind’s relationship with its cars in this short film about a race car driver trying to qualify for a race. This relationship was later revisited in American Graffiti, in which George Lucas explored teenage Americans and their infatuation with cars in the 1950's. Lucas explains on the DVD commentary that it was meant to show that era’s mating rituals through the use of cars in the act of cruising. Not only that, but once again we saw Lucas point out how man can become infatuated with a machine-powered persona, as “Wolfman Jack,” a famous radio DJ in those times, becomes what George Lucas describes as a friend to teenagers at that time along with the practical Wizard of Oz to Richard Dreyfus’s character.
Star Wars introduces us to a very large scale look at this relationship with technology. The relationship can be seen in the spaceships, droids, communication systems, and even weaponry. Yet perhaps the purest form of this theme in the saga is the example of Darth Vader. This is quintessential Lucas as we come to realize that without his machine-powered suit, Anakin Skywalker cannot live. The casting aside of his helmet in Return of the Jedi to look at Luke with his own eyes is not without symbolism: it shows that perhaps man has relied on technology too much to do the things that he should be able to do on his own
Freedom and Rebellion
Lucas grew up during a time of rebellion and war, as thousands of young Americans went against authority and protested the Vietnam War. This idea, along with the renewed sense of freedom in America, obviously had a huge impact on the young Lucas’s mind at the time, as they would for the rest of his life.
The signs of these themes are obvious as far back as Lucas’s college short films. Freiheit (whose title is German for “freedom”) was a thesis film showing a man trying to avoid capture while quotations from politicians and famous speakers of the time about freedom run. In THX 1138:4EB, Lucas featured a man trying to escape a futuristic labyrinth. This short film was later adapted under Lucas’s direction into THX-1138, in which Robert Duvall tries to escape a futuristic underground society.
In Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which was co-written and produced by Lucas, Indiana Jones frees a group of kidnap children who have been forced into slave labor. In Star Wars, of course, there is the Rebel Alliance, rebelling against the evil Empire. This is a freedom which takes its roots directly from real life wars, such as the American Revolution, World War II, and the Cold War.
It has been obvious since day one that Lucas was interested in philosophy and religion. After all, he went to college at first to be an anthropologist before discovering film. In THX-1138, there was the before-mentioned poster-god. In almost all of the Indiana Jones series which Lucas helped write and produce, Indiana is often depicted hunting down lost religious artifacts while at the same time (especially in The Last Crusade) questioning his own faith.
However, the most obvious exploration of religion was in Star Wars with the Jedi. Combining Tao, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Christianity, Lucas combined elements of each to form what he said would “distill them down into a more modern and easily accessible construct_that there is a greater mystery out there... Religion is basically a container for faith. And faith in our culture... what one might describe as a supernatural, or the things we can't explain_is a very important part of what allows us to remain stable, remain balanced."
There are other themes as well, of course. Almost all of Lucas’s film feature characters trying to voyage through their troubles to a hopeful future. Lucas also seems to enjoy giving his characters new “fathers,” such is the case with Dreyfus and Wolfman Jack in American Graffiti and Luke and Obi-Wan in Star Wars. So why is it these themes touch us the way they do? Freedom is an American dream, along with other countries’ as well. His explorations into religion and faith show us a deeper force behind all the troubles of the world. As far as technology goes, machines have become part of our every day lives, so it is perhaps that need for them which reminds us of their potential down-side.